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Snowball fighting, in church

You may not realise it – such it the effect of Christmas on our regular weekly routines – that today is Friday. Blog day. Mind you Christmas brings with it its own routines with the result that Christmases tend to merge together in our memories. So how will I remember this particular Christmas? What was most distinctive (so far)? The answer has to be the snowball fight, the snowball fight in church. Each church tends to observe Christmas Day in different ways: for some it is a major service, for others the major services have already taken place, as is the case for our own church. However, there is a Christmas morning service at our mission church in Smithy Lane. A simple building of corrugated iron, the Good Shepherd boasts the best toilet in the diocese as well as a beautifully cared-for garden. It was formed in 1907 to serve the small rural neighbourhood of Hurlston, founded – I have since found out through Facebook - by the grandfather of a friend. I’ve really no idea but I would guess its catchment area is about 100 houses. Today the Good Shepherd mission has a small but committed following, its membership being my age and older. As it happens I took the Carol Service there earlier this month. The congregation was about 20, I think. The future, it would seem from missiologists, belongs to larger churches. I haven’t got the time to find the latest statistics but in 2005 the largest churches in England, some five percent of all the 37,500 churches, are collectively responsible for almost one-third of churchgoers. And the aim for much of my ordained ministry has been to help make larger churches grow even larger. So the Christmas service at the Good Shepherd mission was something of a new experience for me, We were given a warm welcome, especially my two grandchildren who were the only children in the mostly elderly congregation. It was a great service. The carols were brilliantly led by the pianist from the Kevin Mayhew backing track using the high quality church sound system. We played charades during the sermon from Andy, our lay reader. Everyone participated. It just felt as if we were back in Aunty Phyllis’ front room! Eileen, our sparkie vicar, presided over the Communion and I thought that the service was over when she gave the blessing. But no, more was still to come as she produced three boxes of B&M indoor snowballs. We were going to have a full-on snowball fight. I was surprised how far you throw these snowball substitutes without causing substantial medical damage. I was even more surprised at the more elderly members hurled these seasonal projectiles with an awesome accuracy. In other words we had a great time. I’m not sure how the writers of the New Testament would have reacted to a snowball fight except to say that it built up fellowship and made young children feel welcome. There clearly is a place for small churches in the Kingdom of God, small not because they are reclusive or resistant to change but small because they serve only a small population base. I’ve always argued that you should be able to walk to church. According to the Department of Transport a ‘comfortable walk’ is one kilometre while the 1996 Education Act gives a maximum distance for older children of three miles. Either way the number of people who could walk to the Good Shepherd Mission can’t be more than, say, 800. But belonging to a small church gives a strong sense of fellowship. Members are soon missed while some people find larger numbers intimidating. Small churches can easily grow. Just a few extra members can double the membership! The challenge is always to keep the fellowship outward-looking and welcoming. Resources, especially in some skills may be limited. However, modern technology can be a wonderful resource and not just for backing tracks. Down Under at one of the Sydney Hillsong churches I witnessed inspiring Bible teaching being relayed from a central location through digital projectors. However, the key component is leadership, always a gift of the Holy Spirit. And it is always a case of praying for God to produce and resource leaders – and for everyone to support them in this challenging task. Most of the New Testament churches were small, especially those established virtually overnight by the apostle Paul moving fast through the Roman provinces. For him the right leadership was of central importance. So in what is probably his earliest letter Paul writes: “And now, friends, we ask you to honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!” (1 Thessalonians 5:12f)

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